article first appeared in The Libertarian Forum, January
that the New Left has abandoned its earlier loose, flexible non-ideological
stance, two ideologies have been adopted as guiding theoretical
positions by New Leftists: Marxism-Stalinism, and anarcho-communism.
has unfortunately conquered SDS, but anarcho-communism has attracted
many leftists who are looking for a way out of the bureaucratic
and statist tyranny that has marked the Stalinist road.
And many libertarians,
who are looking for forms of action and for allies in such actions,
have become attracted by an anarchist creed which seemingly exalts
the voluntary way and calls for the abolition of the coercive State.
It is fatal,
however, to abandon and lose sight of one’s own principles in the
quest for allies in specific tactical actions.
both in its original Bakunin-Kropotkin form and its current irrationalist
and "post-scarcity" variety, is poles apart from genuine
If there is
one thing, for example, that anarcho-communism hates and reviles
more than the State it is the rights of private property; as a matter
of fact, the major reason that anarcho-communists oppose the State
is because they wrongly believe that it is the creator and protector
of private property, and therefore that the only route toward abolition
of property is by destruction of the State apparatus.
fail to realize that the State has always been the great enemy and
invader of the rights of private property.
scorning and detesting the free-market, the profit-and-loss economy,
private property, and material affluence – all of which are
corollaries of each other – anarcho-communists wrongly identify
anarchism with communal living, with tribal sharing, and with other
aspects of our emerging drug-rock "youth culture."
The only good
thing that one might say about anarcho-communism is that, in contrast
to Stalinism, its form of communism would, supposedly, be voluntary.
Presumably, no one would be forced to join the communes, and those
who would continue to live individually, and to engage in market
activities, would remain unmolested.
Or would they?
have always been extremely vague and cloudy about the lineaments
of their proposed anarchist society of the future. Many of them
have been propounding the profoundly anti-libertarian doctrine that
the anarcho-communist revolution will have to confiscate and abolish
all private property, so as to wean everyone from their psychological
attachment to the property they own.
it is hard to forget the fact that when the Spanish Anarchists (anarcho-communists
of the Bakunin-Kropotkin type) took over large sections of Spain
during the Civil War of the 193Os, they confiscated and destroyed
all the money in their areas and promptly decreed the death penalty
for the use of money. None of this can give one confidence in the
good, voluntarist intentions of anarcho-communism.
On all other
grounds, anarcho-communism ranges from mischievous to absurd.
this creed is an all-out assault on individuality and on reason.
The individual’s desire for private property, his drive to better
himself, to specialize, to accumulate profits and income, are reviled
by all branches of communism. Instead, everyone is supposed to live
in communes, sharing all his meager possessions with his fellows,
and each being careful not to advance beyond his communal brothers.
At the root
of all forms of communism, compulsory or voluntary, lies a profound
hatred of individual excellence, a denial of the natural or intellectual
superiority of some men over others, and a desire to tear down every
individual to the level of a communal ant-heap. In the name of a
phony "humanism," an irrational and profoundly anti-human
egalitarianism is to rob every individual of his specific and precious
anarcho-communism scorns reason, and its corollaries long-range
purpose, forethought, hard work, and individual achievement; instead,
it exalts irrational feelings, whim, and caprice – all this
in the name of "freedom." The "freedom" of the
anarcho-communist has nothing to do with the genuine libertarian
absence of interpersonal invasion or molestation; it is, instead,
a "freedom" that means enslavement to unreason, to unexamined
whim, and to childish caprice. Socially and philosophically, anarcho-communism
is a misfortune.
anarcho-communism is an absurdity. The anarcho-communist seeks to
abolish money, prices, and employment, and proposes to conduct a
modern economy purely by the automatic registry of "needs"
in some central data bank. No one who has the slightest understanding
of economics can trifle with this theory for a single second.
ago, Ludwig von Mises exposed the total inability of a planned,
moneyless economy to operate above the most primitive level. For
he showed that money-prices are indispensable for the rational allocation
of all of our scarce resources – labor, land, and capital goods
– to the fields and the areas where they are most desired by
the consumers and where they could operate with greatest efficiency.
The socialists conceded the correctness of Mises’s challenge, and
set about – in vain – to find a way to have a rational,
market price system within the context of a socialist planned economy.
after trying an approach to the communist moneyless economy in their
"War Communism" shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution,
reacted in horror as they saw the Russian economy heading to disaster.
Even Stalin never tried to revive it, and since World War II the
East European countries have seen a total abandonment of this communist
ideal and a rapid move toward free markets, a free price system,
profit-and-loss tests, and a promotion of consumer affluence.
It is no accident
that it was precisely the economists in the Communist countries
who led the rush away from communism, socialism, and central planning,
and toward free markets. It is no crime to be ignorant of economics,
which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most
people consider to be a "dismal science." But it is totally
irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic
subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance. Yet this sort
of aggressive ignorance is inherent in the creed of anarcho-communism.
The same comment
can be made on the widespread belief, held by many New Leftists
and by all anarcho-communists, that there is no longer need to worry
about economics or production because we are supposedly living in
a "post-scarcity" world, where such problems do not arise.
But while our condition of scarcity is clearly superior to that
of the cave-man, we are still living in a world of pervasive economic
How will we
know when the world has achieved "post-scarcity"? Simply,
when all the goods and services that we may want have become so
superabundant that their prices have fallen to zero; in short, when
we can acquire all goods and services as in a Garden of Eden –
without effort, without work, without using any scarce resources.
spirit of anarcho-communism was expressed by Norman 0. Brown, one
of the gurus of the new "counter-culture":
economist von Mises tried to refute socialism by demonstrating
that, in abolishing exchange, socialism made economic calculation,
and hence economic rationality, impossible … But if von Mises
is right, then what he discovered is not a refutation but a psychoanalytical
justification of socialism … It is one of the sad ironies
of contemporary intellectual life that the reply of socialist
economists to von Mises’ arguments was to attempt to show that
socialism was not incompatible with "rational economic calculation"
– that is to say, that it could retain the inhuman principle
of economizing. (Life
Against Death, Random House, paperback, 1959, pp. 238–39.)
The fact that
the abandonment of rationality and economics in behalf of "freedom"
and whim will lead to the scrapping of modern production and civilization
and return us to barbarism does not faze our anarcho-communists
and other exponents of the new "counter-culture." But
what they do not seem to realize is that the result of this return
to primitivism would be starvation and death for nearly all of mankind
and a grinding subsistence for the ones remaining.
they have their way, they will find that it is difficult indeed
to be jolly and "unrepressed" while starving to death.
All this brings us back to the wisdom of the great Spanish philosopher
Ortega y Gasset:
In the disturbances
caused by scarcity of food, the mob goes in search of bread, and
the means it employs is generally to wreck the bakeries. This
may serve as a symbol of the attitude adopted, on a greater and
more complicated scale, by the masses of today towards the civilization
by which they are supported … Civilization is not "just
here," it is not self-supporting.
It is artificial
… if you want to make use of the advantages of civilization,
but are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of
civilization – you are done. In a trice you find yourself
left without civilization. Just a slip, and when you look, everything
has vanished into air. The primitive forest appears in its native
state, just as if curtains covering pure Nature had been drawn
back. The jungle is always primitive and vice versa, everything
primitive is mere jungle. (José Ortega y Gasset, The
Revolt of the Masses, New York: W.W. Norton, 1932, p. 97.)
N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State, Conceived
in Liberty, What
Has Government Done to Our Money, For
a New Liberty, The
Case Against the Fed, and many
other books and articles. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The